The Indo-Naga peace process has reached a crucial stage and it is of utmost importance for the future of both our peoples that a just and honourable solution is reached as soon as possible. We believe that the Indian people have just as much to gain from a negotiated settlement as the Naga people. Therefore, it is essential that Indian people inform themselves of the issue at stake. Unfortunately, the media does not often play a positive role in informing the public about the real facts and most Indian seem to be ignorant of both the history of the Naga people and the political issues involved in the talks.
On the whole the Government of India has made a sincere effort at understanding the Naga people. On July 11, 2002 in a joint Communiqué the Government of India officially recognized “the unique history and situation of the Nagas”. What is this unique history and situation of our people? We will attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions by Indians. We hope this will clarify some of the past misunderstandings and clear the way for future dialogue between our peoples.
1. What is the unique about the history of the Naga people?
The Naga nation consists of more than 60 tribes, each with its own language and culture and yet they are united by their shared history against foreign domination and the dream of living as one people, one nation. The Nagas are the original settlers on their homeland and their territory has been well demarcated from time immemorial.
The uniqueness of the Naga people lies in the fact that they have continued to live as a united people despite the fact that its lands have been illegally divided by the British by an international boundary between India and Myanmar. Nagalim was never a part of India and Burma by consent or conquest.
2. What do you mean that the Nagas continue to live as one people?
The Nagas have continued to evolve modern political institutions and organisations in consonance with the democratic principles of Nagas society. Naga polity is based on equal representation for each tribe, large or small. It is the same principle on which the United Nations functions: one nation, one vote. Thus the Naga Students Federation is an apex body of our students and it has two representatives of each of the Naga tribes. Some tribes are very large with more than 300 villages, other such as the Tarao have only three villages. However, each has an equal representation from each tribe.
Within each tribe also the same democratic principle is followed. And the polity is based on consensus and not election which promotes conflicts and power struggles to the detriment of the people.
The Government of the People’s Republic of Nagalim also functions on this democratic principle of equal representation of all our people without allowing the politically and economically powerful tribes to dominant decision making.
Thus even though the Nagas have been divided by artificial boundaries we continue to live together by evolving modern political institutions along the principles of our ancient way of life. This is the way we have not allowed our society to fossilise and we have developed, evolved and changed our customary laws and traditional practices. This has allowed the Naga people as a whole to keep alive their dream of living together under one roof. This gives the Nagas nation a unique history.
3. What do you mean by the unique “situation of the Nagas”?
The unique situation of the Nagas refers to the fact that our lands are contiguous and compact. Even though our lands have been divided by an international boundary between India and Myanmar, a boundary made without the consent or knowledge of the Nagas. Thus Nagalim is divided into Eastern Nagalim, consisting of parts of the Kachin State and Sagaing States in present day Myanmar; and Western Nagalim consisting of whole of the Nagaland States, Four districts of Manipur, parts of Assam and Arunachal. We call our land Nagalim to distinguish it from the India-created State of Nagaland. Lim in Ao language means Land.
The relationship of Nagas with their homeland is symbiotic with their lands, forest and hills. We are a people whose culture, society, polity and economy is defined by the relationship between the people and their land.
4. What is the historical proof that the territory claimed by present day Nagas in fact belongs to them?
First, Nagas have a clear idea of their lands and every inch of our land belongs to the clan, the village and sometimes to the tribe. Only wet paddy fields belonged to individuals. Therefore the entire territory is well demarcated. The territory of the Naga nation is well defined and successive Ahom kings put pillars to mark the boundary and they stand even now silently witnesses to the truth of our claim. Our national boundaries cover an area of approximately 120,000 sq. km with a population of more than four million.
Second, British writers have in book after book described the extent of Naga territory. For instance, in 1873 Captain Butler described the extent of Naga territory in these words: “of all the tribes inhabiting that enormous tract of mountainous country hemming in Assam on the South, the Nagas are one of the most numerous. Roughly speaking, they may said to extend from Kopili River on the west to Bori Dihang on the east. Towards the north they occupy the whole hill country bordering upon the plain districts of Nowgong, Shibsagar and Luckimpore. In the southerly direction, we now know positively that they not only extend upto, bit actually cross over the great main watershed between Irrawady and Brahmaputra, how far, however, they really go down and extend into the valley of Kaiedwan(Chindwin) or Nighthi has never yet been clearly ascertained.”
Third, there are innumerable written records of forests and grazing lands belonging to the Nagas which was appropriated by the tea planters and British Government. Fourth, the Ahom written records also documents the extent of Naga territory and also how Nagas trading extended from Tibet to Sylhet.
5. When did the Nagas demand to live under one roof?
The longing of the Naga people to live under one roof was expressed long before India attained its freedom from British colonialism.
(a) On January 10, 1929 the Nagas submitted a memorandum to the Indian statutory commission (Popularly known as the Simon commission) demanding that Nagas be recognized as a distinct people and nation. (b) In 1932 the Nagas of Tamenglong under the leadership of the legendary Jadonang and his sister Rani Guidelieu fought for the right of Nagas living under the Manipur Maharaja to live separately. (c) On August 15, 1948 the Mao Nagas launched a no-tax campaign against the Government of Manipur in support of their demand that the Naga areas in Manipur be merged with the Naga Hills in Assam. (d) In 1949 leaders of the Naga National Council entered into a 10-point agreement with Sir Akbar Hydari, the then Governor of Assam. Point six stated quite clearly and unambiguously: “To bring under one unified administrative unit as far as possible all Nagas. All the areas so included will be within the scope of the proposed agreement.” (e) In May 1951 Nagas from all over Nagalim voted in a voluntary plebiscite in favour of a sovereign state.
All Naga groups, organisations such as The Naga Hoho (Parliament), Naga Students Federations, Naga Mothers Association, Naga People Movement for Human Rights, United Naga Council, Manipur and Members of Naga Civil Society have all unitedly taken a stand that unification of all Naga areas is a must for any political settlement.
6. But you already have Nagaland state, So why are you demanding for a Greater Nagaland?
Neither the NSCN nor any Naga organisation has ever demanded an inch of land belonging to any other states or people. So there is no question of Nagas demanding a “Greater Nagaland.” We are only demanding what is historically ours, legally and morally ours, nothing less and nothing more. Those who want to carry out their disinformation campaign have vilified our demand for the unification for our lands as a demand for Greater Nagaland. As for the so-called State of Nagaland. Do you know that the majority of the four million Nagas live outside the so-called State of Nagaland. Beside, the creation of the Nagaland State a part of India’s counter-insurgency campaign to divide the Nagas and break our solidarity. The Indian intelligence officers created the Naga people’s Conference and it was the NPC which made the demand for the Nagaland State. The NNC had the full support and backing of the people and this was acknowledge by British and Indian writers.
However, on the demand for the unification of all Naga- inhabited areas even the NPC included it in the 16-point Agreement 12 and 13 of that Agreement specified the territory which has to be included in the so-called State of Nagaland. If it had been included then the size of Naga territory within the Indian State boundary would have been four times the size of the present Nagaland State.
7. What has been the reaction of the Indians to the Naga demand for the unification of Naga territory?
Many Indian leaders in the past recognized the justness of our demand. On July 19, 1947 Naga leaders met Mahatma Gandhi at Bhangi Colony, New Delhi and told him that Nagas want to live separately as a sovereign nation and this was his reply:
“Nagas have every right to be independent. We did not want to live under the domination of the British and they are now leaving us. I want you to feel that India is yours. I feel that the Naga Hills are mine just as much as they are yours, but I do not believe in force or forced unions. If you do not wish to join the Union of India nobody will force you do to that. The congress government will not do that.”
On November 28, 1949 C Rajagopalachari, the first Governor General of independent India told the Naga people at Shillong:
“India wants to be friendly with you. India does not want to deprive the Nagas of their land. Nagas are at full liberty to do as they like, either to become part of India or be separated if it would be best for their interest to be isolated.”
On August 4, 1972 the All India Congress party passed a resolution stating:
“It is agreed upon that the Congress party does not oppose Naga integration movement and does not consider Naga integration movement as anti-party, anti-national, anti- state and unconstitutional activity.” (The text of the resolution is annexed.)
8. Who are the people who are opposing the demand for unification of Naga-inhabited areas? What solution have they suggest?
We can broadly categorize those who are opposing the Naga demand for unification of Naga-inhabited areas into the following:
A. Those who think that the solution lies with giving greater “autonomy” to the present State of Nagaland. Apart from the facts explained above we have seen how even when people are given “autonomy” the centre or State Government in India undermine the autonomy by passing executive orders. Besides, the powers given to the Governors in the North East make a mockery of democracy. B. Those who think that Nagas integration can be achieved by creating institutional structures which unite Nagas without changing the boundaries of any States within India. They have suggested solutions similar to the ones made for the Sami people in Scandinavian countries. As we have already pointed out above we cannot accept any solution which seeks to separate Nagas from their territory. C. The opposition from other Northeast States. Some of this opposition has been fomented by Indian intelligence agencies and the ill-informed media. Our stand remains that we do not claim an inch of land which is not ours. In fact we have protected even those non-Nagas living on our lands with our permission.
If there are any other differences, we the peoples in the North East will solve them amongst ourselves, in accordance with our democratic traditions without interference of outsiders.
9. When you say you have a right to unification of all Naga-inhabited areas do you mean you have a legal right or is it only a moral and political right?
We have a legal right to the unification and integration of Naga-inhabited areas under the international law. Article 1 of both the UN Human Right Covenants States:
“All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
Nagas have never accepted being a part of Indian Union. In our eyes the Indian and Myanmarese presence on our territories is that of an occupation force. Indians look upon the demand for Naga sovereignty as a demand for secession.
The Indians have said that the right to self-determination does not include the right to secession. Yet, India instrumental in the first successful secession when it went against the resolutions of the United Nation and helped the movement for the liberation of East Bengal which resulted in the birth of Bangladesh.
Even before the liberation movement of Bangladesh India supported the Tibetan people’s struggle for self-determination. Independent India’s first president, Rajendra Prasad said in a speech at Gandhi Maidan, Patna on October 24, 1962: “Freedom is the most sacred boon. It has to be protected by all means violent or non-violent. Therefore, Tibet has to be liberated from the iron grip of China and handed over to the Tibetans.”
10. Many Indians have asked what can they do to help resolve the Indo-Naga conflict?
Many Indians friends are convinced that the Nagas demand for unification of Naga inhabited areas has a historical, moral, legal and political foundation. They are convinced that it is a just demand. We are encouraged to see so many young Indians who can look at the Naga demand with an objective eye.
Moreover, these Indian friends have come to realise that the Naga demand for the unification and integration of Naga-inhabited lands is neither a threat to India’s sovereignty nor is it a threat to her territorial integrity.
We are happy to see how Indians have started speaking out against human rights violations of Naga people and they even came to Bangkok and sat in the court to show solidarity with Mr Thuingaleng Muivah, our General secretary when he was arrested on the instigation of Indian intelligence services. Three former Prime Minister of India, even wrote an appeal to both Indian and Thai authorities to release Mr Muivah.
To all those Indian friends we offer our hands in friendship and hope they will convince more and more Indians of our views. This itself will help remove distrust and suspicion that has grown because of the disinformation campaigns run against our movement and our organisation.
On our part we can pledge as we have done before that we will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the peace process ends in just and honourable political settlement which will bring our people close.
Courtesy: Jack Carver